A Death At Island Farm Camp 198
The biographical details, photographs and art were
all graciously provided by the family of Otto Iskat
CAPTURED: Brest, France
DATE OF BIRTH: 21 March 1895
PLACE OF BIRTH: Voslau bei Wien, Austria
DATE OF DEATH: 26 January 1945
PLACE OF DEATH: Island Farm POW Camp 198, Bridgend, Great Britain
OCCUPATION: Construction Official
NEXT OF KIN: Wife: Valerie Iskat
Although details are lacking, Otto Iskat served in the
Austro-Hungarian Army as an infantryman during World War I and received
the Austrian Silver Bravery Medal, the Prussian Iron Cross 2nd Class and
the Karl Troop Cross for bravery at the front. After being captured by the
Russians on the Eastern Front, he was transported to a prisoner of war (POW)
camp in Siberia. Following the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 and
the subsequent Bolshevik revolution, Otto was released from the camp and
traveled across Siberia to Vladivostok where he served for a time in the
Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). In an odyssey lasting nearly two
years, he survived the trek by relying on his wits, artistic prowess (a
lifelong passion – see below), and language skills. (Interestingly, Iskat
is Russian word that means “to search,” an apt name for one who accomplished
such a trek across a war torn continent!). Anecdotal family evidence suggests
Otto was familiar with some 13 languages, including Mandarin and Japanese;
a skill that no doubt aided him in his travels. (A document written in old-style
Russian Cyrillic language now possessed by the Iskat family indicates that
Otto Iskat was apparently traveling with the permission of the new Revolutionary
body. The document instructed all persons to render any and or all assistance
to Iskat by way of transportation, food, lodging and other aid during his
Following the Anschluss (Union) of the Republic of Austria with the Third Reich on 13 March 1938, Otto Iskat and his family found themselves citizens of Germany. Shortly after the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Iskat was called up for military service. Leaving his civilian employment with the Heating Equipment Manufacturing Company in Stuttgart, he donned the field grey uniform of the German Army. Period photographs and anecdotal family evidence suggests he served as a Whermachtbeamte or an Armed Forces Administration Official supervising military construction projects in France. The Iskat family recalled his rank was major for most of the war, but he attained the rank of lieutenant colonel before his capture. However, the rank of major corresponded to the Whermachtbeamte rank of Regierungsbaurat, or a construction and/or building administration official, while a lieutenant colonel equated to an Oberregierungsbaurat in the same administrative field. His death certificate merely lists his rank as Baurat or construction official. While Iskat’s death certificate documents his unit affiliation as the Organisation Todt (OT), it would appear he was only on detached duty with that organization in France. Again, period photographs clearly depict Iskat wearing Army uniform and not OT dress.
Otto Iskat (centre) with two fellow Army Administration Officials
During the war, Otto Iskat was stationed in Brest, France where he supervised a large forced labour population in the construction of German military facilities. Although numerous military construction projects were launched by the Germans in Brest, it seems likely Iskat helped build the enormous U-boat shelter for the Kriegsmarine. Construction started in January 1941 on this imposing concrete shelter (333 metres in length x 192 metres in width x 17 metres in height) and, when completed, consisted of five “wet” pens each capable of docking three U-boats apiece and 15 repair pens each capable of dry docking a single U-boat. With a maximum roof thickness of 6.2 meters of concrete, the U-boat pens were protected against any bomb that Allied aircraft could drop on them at that stage of the war.
In August 1944, British Lancaster bombers dropped 12,000-pound Tallboy bombs on the Brest U-boat pen. Five bombs actually penetrated the roof, but did surprisingly little damage. The 1st and 9th U-Boat Flotillas were based at Brest from June 1941-September 1944 and October 1941-September 1941 respectively. Of interest, the U-boat shelter at Brest is still used by the French Navy today.
Otto Iskat (left) with a Luftwaffe private in France.
Otto Iskat relaxing in France.
The Iskat family also recalls that Otto might have assisted in the construction of V-1 and V-2 rocket launching sites in France. While numerous V-1 launch sites were constructed—primarily in the Pas-de-Calais area of France—only three of the massive V-2 assembly and launch sites were located in that country: Sottevast (Cherbourg peninsula), Éperlecques/Watten and Wizernes, both in the Pas-de-Calais. Although construction of these sites began in late 1943, frequent Allied air attacks combined with a delayed rocket development schedule ensured none were ever completed. All three sites were captured by Allied forces following the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. However, whether or not Otto Iskat actually had a hand in the construction of the French rocket sites cannot be substantiated with the available information.
Again, while specific details are lacking, it appears that Otto Iskat was captured when the city of Brest, designated a “fortress” and commanded by the battle-hardened paratroop officer General der Fallschirmtruppe Hermann-Bernhard Ramcke (briefly held as a prisoner of war at Bridgend in April 1946), fell to U.S. troops in September 1944 following a one-month-long siege. Whatever the exact circumstances of his capture might have been, Otto Iskat was ultimately held as a prisoner of war in Camp 198 in Bridgend, Wales. (The Iskat family recalls that he might have been captured in a British commando raid on Brest in late 1943. However, a poem written by Otto Iskat to his wife, Valerie, is dated 1944 from Brest; See below)
26 January 1945, the 53-year-old Otto Iskat died at Camp 198. His death certificate
details the cause of death as Acute Syncope (recurrent and sudden fainting)
compounded by Arteriosclerosis (hardening and thickening of the walls of the
arteries) and Hyperpiesia (Hypertension or high blood pressure). He was buried
in the Bridgend Cemetery in Grave 13 of Row B and a photograph of his grave
marker was eventually sent to his family in Germany.
COPY of the Otto Iskat's Death Certificate entries
CLICK ABOVE TO ENLARGE
The grave of Otto Iskat in the Bridgend Cemetery (Grave 13, Row B).
ACTUAL ENTRY IN DEATH REGISTER
On 7 April 1949, a negative of this photograph was sent to the Iskat family by the German Section of the Department for Notification of Next-of-Kin of Soldiers of German Armed Forces Killed in Action. The letter that accompanied the negative stated, in part: “May the assurance that the deceased has found a dignified resting-place and that the upkeep of the grave is evidently in good hands be of modest consolation to you.”
His remains were later transferred to Der deutsche Soldatenfriedhof (The German Military Cemetery) in Cannock Chase located north of Wolverhampton in Staffordshire, England. This cemetery was established under the terms of an agreement signed by the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany on 16 October 1959. The Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (German War Graves Commission) designed and built the cemetery, to which the bodies of most of the German war dead buried in Great Britain and Northern Ireland were later transferred.
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